Opened either July of by Wayne Bernhagen, the bar had a rustic but tasteful theme. A visitor to the bar would find the entire front end of an actual car sticking out of one wall in the back room of the bar. Hunky numbers, lively bar, funky layout and even a T-bird's front end. Sound too good to be true? Entertainment on Sunday and Tuesday.
In addition to a large almost triangular shaped front room, there was a long and narrow back room with another bar; a small room with a store selling leather paraphanelia; and a dark and narrow outside patio used more for sex than anything else. Although the front bar was reasonably respectable most of the time, the entire back section was renowned for availability of sex, with its dark atmosphere and crowded space on Friday and Saturday nights. There are also many rumors of after-hours sex parties on the pool table and in the basement.
Over the years, the Wreck Room housed various interesting features. For a time the entire front end of a car was housed in the back room. A wooden cart with a front "yoke" carved in the shape of a large erect penis greeted visitors in the front room. The cart was salvaged and later installed in Woody's Bar back room.
The Wreck Room was generous to its clientele. It was known to regulars for Wednesday pizza nights, where one got a ticket good for a slice of pizza with every drink. The bar also had a variety of stage shows bands or singing groups as well as occasional contests. This tradition began at least by Meanwhile, the owner of the bar, Wayne Bernhagen, was also extremely active outside the bar.
Wayne and Tom Theis together were the force behind the Wreck Room Classic, a softball invitational tournament held every Memorial Day weekend and hosting teams from virtually every major city in the country during its heyday.
The tournament went into decline when other cities also got into the tournament game; the draw of attending a Memorial Day tournament in Atlanta or New York was too much for Milwaukee to compete with.
The tournament continues in reduced form, now sponsored by the SSBL, and usually held on a weekend with less competition. Although the bar carried on after his death, it began a gradual decline, partly as a result of his loss but also because the entire bar landscape was changing.
But above all, the bar was being crowded out: Although the bar had a final large street celebration for its 21st anniversary in August-Sept.
The Wreck Room bar was the inspiration for a tavern, "the bar on the other side", in chapter 9 of a running story, The Beef Matson Mysteries written some years later by R. Chris, a prominent national artist who grew up and came out in Milwaukee.
The writer accurately describes the bar: The following are recollections of others who have been kind enough to submit their personal memories to the webmaster. You are welcome to do the same! The Wreck Room - Probably my favorite bar.
The Wreck Room had a no drag policy for awhile. This was in the early days when the bar was trying to go against the stereotype that gay men were all drag queens. It was more of the just jeans bar where you didn't feel like you had to dress up. Remember drinking a beer while sitting on the front end of the T-bird that stuck out of the wall, all the hubcaps and license plates on the walls. Lots of free peanuts in barrels around the bar and lots of shells on the floor.
I found it easier to meet guys at the Wreck Room, it had a neighborhood feel and I felt safer there since some of the guys would watch out for you and it didn't seem to have the crazies or druggies that the dance bars would attract.